With an increasingly unstable grid across Europe and city-wide blackouts occurring more frequently, onsite power generation is fast becoming a more compelling option for 24x7 mission-critical loads.

We’re joined by expert panelists Mohan Gandhi - Head of Research & Policy, Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance, Halvor Bjerke - Chief Operations Officer, DigiPlex, and Stephan Stålered - Senior Project Manager Acquisition & Integration, Ellevio. We ask our panel whether data centers have a more extensive role to play in the wider energy landscape going forward.

Data centers are significant users of energy - and grids need to decarbonize, what role do data centers have in this process?

Gandhi weighed in first, discussing how wind and solar energy are likely to penetrate further into the existing energy mix. Since the EU is aiming to get at least 60 percent variable renewable energy by 2050, the 15 percent increase from now will need some significant work. This variability in the mix needs to be counterbalanced correctly to ensure that the grid is available 100 percent of the time.

Data centers are large energy users, but can also move loads easily - and due to their location, play an important role in the overall integration of renewables across the board. We know grids across EMEA are open to introducing these variations, and the technology is there, but there is some part of the business model stopping complete buy-in.

Bjerke notes the uncertain landscape that prevents investors from full buy-in, due to the 10-15 year planning time. Some governments may introduce or change renewable energy incentives in this time, so decisions about integration and off-grid solutions are difficult to make. Bjerke also notes how shareholders need to be able to see the full picture cost, but there is always some level of uncertainty associated with this.

Stålered summarized by reinforcing the fact that stakeholders need incentives to use redundancy and sell it back to the grid. This would require a fully stabilized grid for the whole market, and enough flexibility that data center operators can participate in the scheme if they generate more power, or use less than they need.

Price of energy, arrival of renewables. How do we get past objection?

Customers need a commitment to basic service level agreements and data centers operators are tied to these agreements. There are currently not enough viable incentives to exceed expectations for data center operators. Some operators are using lithium-ion batteries with small footprints, and their lifecycle is approximately 15 years. However, this is not the case for all renewable technologies. The uncertainty about incentives and value add prevents significant investment.

In many cities across the world there is a distinct lack of power. Where there is a lack of power there is an opportunity for data centers to sell power back to the grid. In the case of Stockholm, power demand will increase in the near future. The market is there, and it will continue to exist for the next 15 years.

So there are opportunities and roadblocks - what is being done? Europe, in general, is the most advanced in this transition towards variable renewals, according to Gandhi. Most other regions will consider Europe the pilot case for the rest of the world to follow. The grid has a very clear need for energy supply, but data centers are evaluating the benefits of selling back to the grid. Most of this is about minimizing risk, and data centers do have an important role to play, but there is no silver bullet to solving the issue.

Making the jump

There are a number of ways data centers can help the grid supply. Reusing heat energy is one of the key ways data centers can contribute to the energy mix. Heat power and excess are quite common in data centers, but they often do not utilize the energy effectively. Data centers that can capture the heat energy and use it to help power the grid may see significant returns on investment in the future.

Reversing the flow of energy and selling power back into the grid is a process that a lot of operators consider. The associated risks and uncertainty in investment means a lot of them do not do it. The regulatory systems and frameworks aren’t there yet, even if the motivation is. However, there are few instances where this isn’t the case.

Tune into the full webinar to find out more about companies making the jump.